Rape victims named and 'vilified' online, top prosecutor says

A twitter app icon on a smartphone screen Image copyright PA

Rape victims are being named and "vilified" online because laws to protect their anonymity are too weak, a House of Lords committee has heard.

Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders said identifying sex offence victims in England and Wales could only be punished by fines at present.

The same applied even if there was sustained abuse of a victim, she said.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) leader also raised concerns about the naming of children in court cases.

"Where we do think the legislation needs to be looked at is around some of the reporting restrictions in relation to anonymity and breach of orders," Ms Saunders told the House of Lords Communications Committee.

Abuse 'campaigns'

CPS legal adviser Tim Thompson said existing laws against publishing the names of children who had appeared in court cases did not include social media posts.

The Sexual Offences Amendment Act, which gives lifelong anonymity to victims of sex offences, does apply but a fine is the maximum punishment.

"That is something that some district judges have commented on when dealing with particular cases where individual victims of rape have been vilified in campaigns, of people deliberately naming and abusing them, and the penalty available has been a financial one," Mr Thompson said.

Also speaking to the committee, the chief constable of Essex Police called for new "preventative" laws to stop online crime.

Stephen Kavanagh said: "There are too many victims out there whose lives have been devastated by online abuse.

"Of course legislation can be applied to many of the criminal behaviours on social media, but we believe it is time to consider whether enabling preventative and enforcement legislation will assist in keeping people more safe in the online environment."

More on this story